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Food Network star to share quick-cooking secrets

| Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009

Leftovers are a lifesaver for Robin Miller.

As the host of a successful cooking show on the Food Network and a busy mom to two young sons, the nutritionist and food writer has a strategy for preparing healthful meals without spending hours in the kitchen.

"All it takes is a little advance planning," says Miller of "Quick Fix Meals" fame.

Her weeknight family dinners often revolve around preparing extras from one entree that can "morph to another meal" or doubling a recipe and freezing half for a later date.

She will share her tips for creating "52 Weeks of Quick-Fix Meals," the subtitle of her latest book, "Robin Rescues Dinner" (Clarkson Potter, $19.99) on Friday at the Robinson Giant Eagle Market District store. She has family ties to Western Pennsylvania. Her husband, Darrin, grew up in Ligonier; his parents, Frank and June Miller, still reside there.

One of the keys to managing weeknight meals, according to Miller, is to set aside a "prep day" during the weekend to create menus, prepare ingredients or an entire dish with an extra quantity for planned leftovers. Proteins -- such as chicken breasts or flank steak -- are best bets for reinventing into a completely new meal.

The extra steak from her Seared Teriyaki Beef Roll with Gingered Vegetables, for example, can star in Chimichangas Ranchero with Steak and Pink Beans. Leftover cooked chicken is one of the most versatile ingredients for creating distinctive meals -- from Southwest Chicken Pot Pie one night to Baja Chicken Soft Tacos another night; from Nutty Asian Chicken over Noodles to Corn Tortilla Soup with Chicken and Lime.

"A lot of times, I don't know what I'm cooking for dinner and it's 5:30 p.m.," she says. "Thinking ahead takes the stress out of cooking."

She also advocates taking shortcuts in meal preparation when possible. A few of her timesaving tips:

• Freeze 1/2 cup measures of ingredients such as onions and peppers to make quick soups and stir fries with less chopping.

• Bagged cole slaw mix isn't just for slaw. Use the pre-shredded mix of cabbages and carrots in stir-fries, soups and other side dishes.

• Don't throw out leftover rice. Use it to make fried rice, rice cakes or quick rice pudding.

• Peeling potatoes is a hassle. Leave the skin on your potatoes for more fiber and nutrients and to save time.

"I always have a pound of cooked pasta in my fridge," Miller says. "I don't want to wait for the water to boil at 6 p.m." She also keeps roasted red peppers and oil-packed sundried tomatoes in her pantry just in case she feels like turning an ordinary dish "from regular to gourmet."

Miller, who has a master's degree in food and nutrition from New York University, has been a guest on various network and cable television programs and is the author of several other cooking books, including "Picnics," "The Newlywed Cookbook" and "Cooking for Healthy Living."

When she speaks at cooking demonstrations such as her Market District appearance this weekend, the question she is asked most often is: "Do I really live what I say• -- and the answer is yes."

If meal preparers know their kitchen is well-stocked, she says they will be less likely to pull into a fast-food drive-thru on a whim instead of opting for a healthful meal when they get home.

That's not to say her family doesn't enjoy an occasional meal at a nice restaurant.

"We eat out, but we eat out on purpose," she says.

During her local appearance, Miller will demonstrate how the leftovers from her Raspberry-Dijon Baked Ham recipe can be used for a second easy-to-create dinner, Ham Sandwich Penne with Pumpernickel-Parmesan Bread Crumbs.

Raspberry-Dijon Baked Ham

• Vegetable cooking spray

• 1 (4-pound) boneless baked ham

• 1/2 cup seedless raspberry preserves

• 1/4 cup orange juice

• 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a shallow roasting pan with the cooking spray. Put the ham in the pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the preserves, orange juice and Dijon mustard. Brush the mixture all over the ham.

Bake for 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center reads 140 degrees (approximately 15 minutes per pound). Let stand for 5 minutes before slicing into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Serve three quarters of the ham for this meal. (Reserve the remaining ham for the penne.)

Makes 4-6 servings (with leftovers for Ham Sandwich Penne).

Ham Sandwich Penne with Pumpernickel-Parmesan Bread Crumbs

• 1 pound penne pasta

• 2 slices dark pumpernickel bread, toasted and cooled

• 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

• 2 tablespoons honey mustard

• 2 cups diced ham (from leftovers)

• 1 cup cubed Swiss cheese

• 2 cups baby spinach leaves

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, to make the bread crumbs, put the toasted pumpernickel bread and parmesan cheese in a plastic bag and seal the bag. Using a heavy rolling pin or the bottom of a heavy skillet, crush the bread into fine crumbs. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, whisk together the cream and honey mustard. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Add the cooked pasta, ham, Swiss cheese and spinach leaves and cook for 1 minute to heat through (the cheese will just begin to melt). Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Spoon the pasta mixture into individual shallow bowls and top with the pumpernickel crumb mixture.

Makes 4 servings.

Tortilla-Crusted Salmon with Tropical Fruit Salsa

In this recipe, Robin Miller "recycles" an unfinished bag of tortilla chips and adds a distinct salty corn flavor and crisp texture to salmon.

• Vegetable cooking spray

• 4 salmon fillets (about 5 ounces each)

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

• 4 cups corn tortilla chips

• 1 mango, pitted and diced

• 1 papaya, seeded and diced

• 1/2 cup diced pineapple (fresh or canned in juice)

• 2 tablespoons minced onion (red or white)

• 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with the cooking spray. Season both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper. Brush the top side of salmon with Dijon mustard.

Place the chips in a plastic bag and, using a heavy rolling pin or the bottom of a heavy skillet, crush into fine crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a shallow dish. Add the salmon to the chips, mustard-side down, and press in the tortilla chips, coating the flesh.

Transfer the salmon to a prepared baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until the fish is fork-tender.

Meanwhile, to make the salsa, in a small bowl, combine the mango, papaya, pineapple, onion, lime juice and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the salmon with salsa on the side or served over top.

Makes 4 servings.

Additional Information:

Robin Miller

What: Food Network star guest appearance and cooking demonstration

When: Noon-3 p.m. Friday

Cost: Free

Where: Giant Eagle Market District, Robinson

Details: Web site

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